Monday, July 4, 2011

An Old-fashioned Fourth!

Over thirty years ago when my children were small, we lived in an old neighborhood in Philadelphia called Roxborough. Although well within city limits, it was more like a small town than a neighborhood. There was a strong community spirit and the people who lived there loved their holidays. On Halloween, the mothers made their children’s costumes from scratch and their kitchens were redolent with the smell of caramel and apples as they prepared treats for “Trick ‘n Treat” night. As for Christmas, all the fathers had dug out their strings of outdoor lights and were tacking them around their windows and doors by December 1st. And, by the 4th of July, all the flags had been up since Memorial Day, but the children rose a dawn to decorate their tricycles, bicycles, express wagons and baby-carriages with tri-colored crepe paper for the parade. Meanwhile their mothers labored inside preparing the picnic lunches of cold chicken, potato salad, deviled eggs and chocolate brownies. Only the fathers slept in. At half-past nine, the whole family trooped down to Ridge Avenue (our Main Street) to either join the parade or find a place on the curb where they could have a good view of it.

Of course, scenes like this were happening in cities and towns all over the United States. But in Roxborough there was one difference. Everyone – man, woman and child – had a tin cup strung around their neck. Why? Because after the parade every church in the neighborhood, and Roxborough was famous for its churches, of all denominations – (some services were still given in Polish and Italian to accommodate the older members) – would open their grounds to their parishioners for picnics. And, along with the grounds, every church offered a huge wooden keg of free lemonade for refreshment. I can still taste that icy liquid. Not too tart, not too sweet – an elixir of the gods, if there ever was one. After the initial rush to fill the cups, the demand petered out. But the keg remained, never running dry. You could tap it as often as you liked throughout the long, hot afternoon. Whether thirsty from softball, from egg and spoon races, or from just sitting around swatting flies, it was there for you... Excuse me, I have to go now, and make myself a pitcher...

Happy Fourth of July!

Robin Hathaway

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